phase 2: it didn’t grow on a tree

Phase Too. Embracing the subcultures stemming from poverty and marginalization…

Art Chantry (

No, this is not Joey Ramone. this guy is Lonny Wood. He’s also known as phase too (phase two, phase 2, P2, phase, phaze, etc. etc.) and is probably one of the most important designer/philosopher/innovators of the last half century. The only other such creative cultural innovator I can think of with as much impact on world popular culture is von Dutch. phase too is actually that influential. And yeah, he really does look like Joey in this snap.

this photo of phase too is from around 1971-74. I forget entirely where I found it (some magazine). The article was about New York graffiti and the who subway car gallery phenom. It interviewed several of the major players in that scene and (of course) they had to cover phase 2, because he was so important. Among many contributions to the genre, phase 2 invented the ‘bubble lettering’ style. Hard to imagine somebody inventing that look, but he did. I assumed it grew on a tree…

AC:the graffiti writing and the early hip hop culture was already long old history by the time those movies hit the screen. guys like phase 2 were already "senior citizens" of the scene. he was WAY early.

Other stylistic innovations include the use of graphic elements (like arrows) and deconstructed letter forms used almost as hieroglyphs (especially in competitive tagging). Basically, Phase created the style of graffiti as we know it. Granted, there were many many other writers (he is the very first to cite his inspirations and sources) but, it was phase that took it to the new level, the level we still maintain today. He is considered the “father of style.”

But, his culture jamming didn’t end there with the spray can. He was an early pioneer of the entire hip hop culture. He was deeply involved with the early south Bronx hip hop parties (sponsored by lady kool blue). he did the posters/flyers, dj’d, even did live graffiti performances on stage.

---here is a color repro of the mural that is in the background behind P2 in that b&w photo. note the balloon style (and the arrow as well.)---AC

His early dj work and his mixing influenced so many people that he’s consider one of the first to tackle that medium. He also toured England with a crew and actually seems to have been part of the introduction of hip hop to Europe and English punk. His reach was international!

He was also a very very early b-boy. His team is often credited with the creation of ‘uprock’. In fact, in the movie ‘wild style’, the film that introduced hip hop to the wider world of American pop culture for the first time, there was character named “phade” that was based on phase 2 (played by fellow graffiti writer fab five freddy).

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AC:gary - this is like one of the best collections of this material i've ever seen. you should find a publisher to simply reproduce these - one per page - as a little book. get phase 2 to write an intro and WHAM! great little design/history book. ( gary gilmore)

The influence of Phase Too is so pervasive and long term that even today he is treated as a guru and listened to as a svengali of hip hop. His pronouncements and interviews are examined closely for clues to his thinking and his philosophical efforts are treated with such reverence that he is respected as a founding father of the whole scene all over the world.

But, one of the things that fascinates me about Phase 2 and his work is the old show flyers. Early hip hop culture formed and grew at exactly the same time and same places as punk culture. In fact, they were was a lot of early cross over between the two camps. There was mutual respect. It’s as if it almost were the SAME phenom, but interpreted through different urban subculture lenses. One became black culture, the other white culture. Both the same, But different. It’s an interesting theory.

AC:punk/hip hop was nyc's the last death rattle wheeze before the whole place keeled over and sold their moldering carcass to the corporations for pocket change. nothing worth a damn has emerged from that city since.

Examining the old flyers seriously reinforces this comparison. At first glance, they look identical. DIY, zero budget, cheap quick print. lotsa presstype, clipped photocopied images and border tape. To the untrained eye, they are exactly the same. Early posters by Phase Too look like punk posters and vice versa.

Upon further examination, you begin to see the differences. the hip hop flyers were not so much a rejection of mainstream values (like you can claim most punk graphics attempted), but an embrace of the subcultures stemming from poverty and marginalization. Although punk also incorporated those forms into the early graphics, it was not their sole intent. Hip hop was a celebration rather than a condemnation. So, in a spirited way they were opposites.

---well, i still think nyc hasn't done much in a looong time. this stuff i'm talking about happened in the mid seventies - the last period of relevant design from your silly little town. nyc hasn't produced anything of note (outside of corporate dullsville) in decades. jes' the facks, man.---AC

Phase too was pivotal to the development of a huge part of contemporary pop culture. The clothing, the graphics, the movement, the attitude, the entire spiritual philosophy of hip hop culture owes a huge nod to this man. It’s high time we white folk in “fine design culture” actually acknowledged that much of this stuff was the work of a great man. It didn’t grow on a tree.

AC:and a final one. notice all the presstype, typewriter, border tape and line work (along with all the crudely copied pics. great stuff, very "punkesque". also note that he signed his name four differently on each poster.

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